Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Win7 vs. Vista: It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Windows Vista is the OS everyone loved to hate. Its replacement by Windows 7 is welcomed by just about everyone, and the initial reviews are excellent. Thank goodness. But let's not let this go unanalyzed. The OS formerly known as "Beasta" is dead, but a post mortem is necessary.

Let's be factual about matters: when run on a decent PC (by late-2006 standards), that was designed for it, with the OS and all drivers pre-installed, Vista ran just fine, especially the 64-bit version. Yes, Vista used a lot of memory and CPU. Yes, file copy operations were slow before SP2. User Account Control prompts were burdensome and annoying (and sometimes there was a longish pause between screen blackout and prompt pop-up). And I never enjoyed the game of Windows Explorer roulette, wherein the particular view an Explorer window might display when opened was unknown. Especially since the odds of winning seemed to heavily favor the house. Vista had its flakey factor; no question.

But, I'll say it again: on the right hardware, Vista ran fine. Is "fine" (and flakey) good enough to succeed in a market where everyone thought XP was already quite good? Well, no, it's not. And when you add the mishaps encountered in running Vista as an upgrade on older hardware designed for XP, it's no wonder the OS became a laughing stock. But the fact remains that much of the hateful criticism hurled at Vista was unfounded. It's fine to say you didn't like Vista. It's quite another to say it was horrible.

This is especially true given that many of the same people who derided Vista, and who passionately proclaimed the vast superiority of the Mac OS over it, are now singing the praises of Windows 7, utterly abandoning their zealous anti-Windows rhetoric reserved for the last release. Yes, Windows 7 runs great on old machines and Netbooks. It looks nice, and things like the Taskbar and Jump Lists are good productivity features. The UAC prompts are less obtrusive, Libraries are helpful and the media features are neat. The pre-beta of Windows 7 seemed to run more stably that the original RTM release of Vista. The product team was very well run. OEMs were better-managed and the quality of their drivers at launch was far superior than for Vista. Having 8 million beta testers didn't hurt either.

Windows 7's development was exemplary. No argument. But this still doesn't explain the exuberance around Windows 7 by some of its predecessor's most virulent detractors. In fact, with apologies to Alan Greenspan, we might call the exuberance downright irrational.

Does anyone remember the "Mojave Experiment?" This was a stealth market research effort by Microsoft wherein random PC users were shown what (they were told) was a new version of Windows code-named Mojave. But they were, in fact, just running Vista. The overwhelming feedback from participants was positive. Microsoft thought this outcome was striking, significant, and even somewhat humorous. Tech wonks everywhere thought the campaign was carried out in bad taste and proved nothing.

If at first you don't succeed... reconfigure your campaign. I see Windows 7 as Stage II of the Mojave experiment. The new OS is built on the same codebase as Vista... but that code has been refined, the process around it was much better controlled and the fit and finish of the OS is nearly flawless.

That's probably not unlike the original Mojave experiment's circumstances: I am certain the machines used in Mojave sessions were beefy, with fully compatible drivers, optimized configurations, lots of RAM and sufficient hard disk. So the OS ran well. And the people showing it were able to highlight its advances over Windows XP. We're all Mojave 2.0 users now. But we're viewing it in a different light than we did Mojave 1.0.

I don't think that's surprising. People were ready to like Windows again, they desperately wanted a clean slate, and so they got it. But make no mistake; they're judging Windows 7 under a different standard than they did Vista... a double standard. Microsoft should learn that errors in execution will subject it to such double standards and negative perceptions in general. Redmond has only itself to blame.

Hopefully some analysts and customers will eventually acknowledge that double standards are not rigorous standards, nor are they intellectually defensible. Mojave 2.0 is better than 1.0, but hardly to the degree proclaimed.

Posted on 10/27/2009

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